After a barnstorming opening weekend of Football League action, we take a look at five things we’ve learned at this early stage.
5. Dublin display highlights why they are All-Ireland champions
Jim Gavin’s Dublin footballers kickstarted their league campaign with a seven-point victory over Cian O’Neill’s Kildare side. The Dubs prevailed on a scoreline of 2-17 to 2-10 despite suffering a slow start and finding themselves behind by two points at the break.
Dublin, who are only back training the last two weeks following their team holiday in South Africa showed signs of rustiness in the first-half as Kildare seemed to outwork and outplay the champions. The Lilywhites went four points in front midway through the first-half but wayward shooting ensured that Dublin were always in contention despite their lethargic opening 35-minute display.
However, a strong second-half surge, which saw the Dubs hit 2-05 without a Kildare reply, meant Jim Gavin’s side clinically dispatched the Lilywhites’ challenge. Dean Rock and Man of the Match Brian Fenton, who finished with 1-03 from midfield, found the net to effectively kill the game thanks to some deft hand-passing work from Bernard Brogan.
Worryingly for Cian O’Neill’s side, they failed to register a score from play in the second half until the talented Daniel Flynn, who caused Dublin’s full-back line no shortage of problems in the first period, managed to find the net with a bullet into Stephen Cluxton’s top corner.
Dublin travel to Omagh on Saturday while Kildare host Monaghan in Newbridge on Sunday afternoon.
4. Kerry’s young guns step up to the mark
Kerry manager Éamonn Fitzmaurice’s youthful side impressed against Declan Bonner’s Donegal team in a January thriller at Fitzgerald Stadium, winning on a scoreline of 2-18 to 3-14.
The much-talked about David Clifford, who sensationally scored 4-04 in last year’s All-Ireland Minor Football Championship final was handed his Kerry senior debut, with Dr. Crokes duo Shane Murphy and Mícheál Burns, Kenmare’s Seán Ó Sé, Kerins O’Rahilly’s Cormac Coffey and Ballydonoghue’s Jason Foley also being given their first senior appearances for the Kingdom.
Ó Sé, who started at number 11, turned in a great performance notching 0-07, with 0-03 of his tally coming from open play, while Clifford registered a point from a free and was directly involved in 1-03 of Kerry’s tally before being withdrawn in the 49th minute. His quick lay-off to Stephen O’Brien for Kerry’s opening goal in the 18th minute illustrates that Clifford can see a pass as well as shoot the lights out.
It took a last-gasp point from the experienced Dáithí Casey to see Kerry past a spirited Donegal side but despite the closeness of the affair, Fitzmaurice will be pleased by the performances of his young players and will hope that they can continue their progress as Kerry look to build on a disappointing campaign in 2017.
3. Donegal’s performance indicates that they may be a coming side
With Declan Bonner back at the helm as Donegal senior football manager for the first time since 2000, 2018 will be viewed as a year of continued progress for the Tir Chonaill men following the introduction of several young players by last year’s manager, Rory Gallagher.
To sustain this progress Donegal brought in Bonner as senior manager following his success with the county’s minor and under-21 squads in the last four years.
Despite narrowly losing to Kerry, Donegal look like they may have a brighter year ahead as they turned in a solid display in Killarney despite playing much of the 70 minutes with 14 men following Nathan Mullins’ first half dismissal.
The return of Gaoth Dobhair’s Odhrán MacNiallais was a massive boost for Donegal and he turned in a fine display firing 1-02 on his competitive return to action. His high fielding provided Donegal with a different option from the running game they have implemented since the days of McGuinness.
However, MacNiallais’ performance was overshadowed by the masterful exhibition of forward play by Paddy McBrearty as he notched 0-10, with 0-08 coming from frees. Not that these were easy frees either with the majority coming from acute angles and long-distance but they proved no challenge for the cultured left boot of Kilcar’s finest marksman.
2. Monaghan indiscipline saw Mayo over the line in Clones clash
Castlebar Mitchels’ Paddy Durcan proved to be Mayo’s hero as his last-minute effort secured two points for last year’s All-Ireland finalists against Monaghan in Clones.
Mayo led by three points with time running out for Malachy O’Rourke’s side to earn their first points of the season but the Westerners were helped by the Farney County’s indiscipline in the final stages that saw Ryan Wylie dismissed on a straight red card following a tussle with Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea while Barry Kerr was also shown the line after an altercation with Jason Gibbons in added time.
Monaghan looked primed for a draw following a late flurry of scores from Conor McCarthy and Niall Kearns but Mayo managed to break up the field in the final play and land a score through Durcan to see Stephen Rochford’s side over the line.
Had Monaghan been able to keep their full array of players on the field in the closing stages they could have at least salvaged a draw. Mayo, who are notoriously slow starters, will be delighted with their victory in what is a tough place to go and win in Clones.
1. Galway look to stay in top tier after toppling Tyrone
Many would have backed a straightforward win for Tyrone in Tuam Stadium after suffering a harrowing All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Dublin last year and enduring the scars of such a defeat over the winter months.
Galway, who have returned to Division 1 after a seven-year absence, made their mark in this encounter, winning 1-09 to 0-08 against Mickey Harte’s men. Tyrone were hot favourites to win but Galway tore up that script within 16 seconds thanks to a fine solo run and finish from new captain Damien Comer.
Indeed, Galway’s opening blitz saw Tyrone 1-02 to 0-00 behind after seven minutes and it took a Tiernan McCann effort in the 15th minute to get the Red Hand off the mark.
The Tribesmen were well worth their victory against a lethargic Tyrone side who were five points down with 15 minutes remaining. A late revival from the Ulstermen saw them cut the deficit to two points thanks to a brace of frees from Peter Harte and Ronan O’Neill but Shane Walsh and Comer ensured a happy return to the top tier for Kevin Walsh’s side when they knocked over efforts to seal a deserved win.
Galway will be delighted at gaining the two points as they still have a long road ahead of them as they look to consolidate their status back in the top tier.